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Election fever now stalks Mara Reserve arrivals

The elections fever has begun to impact on the tourism peak season in the Masai Mara National Reserve. Tour operators and hoteliers say fear of violence has seen occupancy drop from above 90 per cent two weeks ago to about 65 per cent this week.

However, arrivals from China have increased in the last two weeks while those from US, UK and other European countries have dipped. “The fear of violence has affected the season.

Even overseas travel agents are concerned,” said Jackson Loseiya, a tour operator and a co-director for the Big Cats Diaries for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

He said insurance companies are advising their clients to avoid the country because of political violence concerns.“They think some violence witnessed during recent political rallies are indicators of what could happen during and after the elections,” he said.

Recent al Shabab terror attacks and kidnappings in Lamu have also served to cement the belief that the country’s security is deteriorating and would worsen as elections near.

“The July-October tourism peak seasons in the Coast and the Mara are important to the country’s economy. If violence erupts, such as happened after the 2007 General Election, it will take long for the industry to recover,” warns Loseiya.

Isaac Kasura, the general manager Entumoto Safari Camp within Siana Conservancy outside the Mara National Reserve, says: “If violence erupts, it will take long for sector to recover.

The timing of the election is poor. It should have been held after October,” he says. Many lodges and camps are underperforming because of poor arrivals and by the end of this month, they will be empty.

“This is a high stakes election with an incumbent President defending his seat. From opinion polls, it will be a too –close-to call poll. Political intolerance being witnessed is making matters worse,” he says.

Lily Waddington, the proprietor of Osero Lodge, says East Africa- bound tourists were opting for the neighbouring Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Zanzibar island.

“Tanzania will reap in the event of violence. International travel companies will avoid Kenya may be until after the General Election. That’s if it peters out peacefully,” said Waddington.

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